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Okay I know these kind of speeches will not grab someone's attention very often, so I'll extract a few lines and elaborate. Quoting Wallace:
"True, there are plenty of religious people who seem arrogant and certain of their own interpretations, too. They're probably even more repulsive than atheists, at least to most of us. But religious dogmatists' problem is exactly the same as the story's unbeliever: blind certainty, a close-mindedness that amounts to an imprisonment so total that the prisoner doesn't even know he's locked up.
"The point here is that I think this is one part of what teaching me how to think is really supposed to mean. To be just a little less arrogant. To have just a little critical awareness about myself and my certainties. Because a huge percentage of the stuff that I tend to be automatically certain of is, it turns out, totally wrong and deluded. I have learned this the hard way, as I predict you graduates will, too.
"This is not a matter of virtue. It's a matter of my choosing to do the work of somehow altering or getting free of my natural, hard-wired default setting which is to be deeply and literally self-centered and to see and interpret everything through this lens of self. People who can adjust their natural default setting this way are often described as being "well-adjusted", which I suggest to you is not an accidental term.
"I have come gradually to understand that the liberal arts cliché about teaching you how to think is actually shorthand for a much deeper, more serious idea: learning how to think really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think. It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience. Because if you cannot exercise this kind of choice in adult life, you will be totally hosed. Think of the old cliché about "the mind being an excellent servant but a terrible master".
For myself and perhaps some of the "seniors" that write in this website, I can relate to the humorous anecdotal experiences that Wallace describes in his speech. And now having gone through those life experiences (I am 66 years old) I sit here in my retirement days having educated myself on all the key issues of the day, and done all that critical thinking stuff...but after all that, it is still just so hard to not be arrogant and contemptuous about those on the right that display such selfishness and willful ignorance.
And for the new graduates, how can you think critically about these issues when you graduate with a mountain of debt and the first and foremost thing on your mind is to make money after having lived as a "pauper student" for so long?
Near the end of his speech, Wallace talks about "real freedom...that is being educated, and understanding how to think. The alternative is unconsciousness, the default setting, the rat race, the constant gnawing sense of having had, and lost, some infinite thing."
Unfortunately for Wallace, he could not cope with his own reality. He suffered from depression and committed suicide three years after giving his wonderful speech. He did it by hanging himself. Nevertheless, I'll put that as a reminder that we are all vulnerable to our own thinking, and accept Wallace's words of wisdom...the importance of having an "awareness of what is so real and essential"...what is "so hidden in plain sight all around us, all the time, that we have to keep reminding ourselves over and over."
RIP David Foster Wallace.